David Brooks Wants To Tell Us How To Engage A Fanatic

by Greg Camp ; Opinion
AmmoLand News welcomes Greg Camp to our list of the best and brightest Second Amendment contributors.

David Brooks, columnist
David Brooks, columnist

Greg Camp
Greg Camp

USA – -(Ammoland.com)- David Brooks, columnist with right-wing leanings for The New York Times, wants to be able to communicate.

Unfortunately, he’s decided that the people he’s seeking to have an exchange of ideas with are fanatics.

Now he says that we all—presuming we’re not fanatics in his mind—should approach such people with civility and love,.

In doing so, “you’ll teach the world something about you by the way you listen. You may even learn something; a person doesn’t have to be right to teach you some of the ways you are wrong.”

Well, then. This fills his condescension quota for the month. Isn’t it pleasant to learn that he will listen to the people whom he determines to be fanatics, a smug smile on his face while he learns just how superior he is.

Or how superior he believes himself to be. I raise this consideration of his article because I know exactly what he means, having been on the receiving end of attitudes much like his. And yes, his support for gun control is a part of what he’s talking about here.

What, though, is a fanatic?

People who follow a sports team or a celebrity with what looks like religious zeal are called fans, a shortened form of the word in question, and the etymology of the same informs us that the original notion was of a person who is “mad, enthusiastic, inspired by a god.” This fits into the idea that Brooks is arguing here. A fanatic is much like the person who is possessed, taken over by some outside force.

I do take something of what he’s saying to heart. It’s hard not to feel superior when the facts are on your side or when an opponent is being irrational. Talking to people who insist on believing things that are demonstrably false is tedious. But even if I were to have risen to the establishment heights of David Brooks, I’d have to understand that I, too, can be wrong.

And that’s the value of talking to people who disagree with me. Not to feel superior, since that is often easier to do without anyone else’s assistance. Instead, the goal is to participate in today’s agora, the marketplace of ideas. Ideas need to be tested, and there is no more caustic trial than the public stage of social media.

But what Brooks doesn’t understand is that asserting an argument is risky if it’s an honest act. The fanatic might have the truth. The trouble with the position that Brooks has adopted is that he’s committing the fallacy of begging the question. He knows he’s right because he’s right.

Each One, Teach One: Preserving and protecting the Second Amendment in the 21st century
Each One, Teach One: Preserving and protecting the Second Amendment in the 21st century

It’s my experience that the gun-rights position can win on the evidence when people care about that standard. If Brooks and his fellow establishment types are willing to listen, I’m ready to make my case. Even if they won’t be swayed by the use of logic, there will often be others watching the discussion, and that’s really what this is about.

Advocates aren’t here to change their minds, but lots of Americans in the middle can be reached, and those of us who support private ownership and carry of firearms cannot write them off.

About Greg Camp

Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc.

  • 6 thoughts on “David Brooks Wants To Tell Us How To Engage A Fanatic

    1. The author went one step farther than I would have. He read and article published in the N.Y. Times. I wouldn’t have wasted my time reading or commenting on a loser working for a loser organization.

    2. “…But what Brooks doesn’t understand is that asserting an argument is risky if it’s an honest act. The fanatic might have the truth. …It’s my experience that the gun-rights position can win on the evidence when people care about that standard. If Brooks and his fellow establishment types are willing to listen, I’m ready to make my case.”

      The problem here, it seems to me, is that we are conflating two very different kids of rhetoric. The language quoted above is appropriate rhetoric for a policy debate: asserting an argument, winning, making a case, etc.

      However, what Brooks is attempting to get at in his column (and I agree that his use of “fanatic” is problematic), is the notion of civil discourse. The latter, civil discourse, must precede the former, policy debates. The problem in contemporary American discourse is that we have abandoned civil discourse and jump directly into claiming, asserting, and attempting to win “positions.”

      The goal of civil discourse is not to win or influence or advance a point of view. The goal of democratic civil discourse is deeper understanding. Period. This requires beginning with certain assumptions. First, that I don’t know everything about this matter or the person(s) with whom I am in discourse. Second, civil discourse cannot be achieved if one labels, dismisses, demonizes, diminishes or “other-izes” people bringing different perspectives to the conversation (which is primarily why Brooks should not have used “fanatic”). Thirdly, civil discourse must begin with an assumption that the issue under discussion is as complex as the human condition and cannot be wholly captured by a simplistic duality (for/against, right/wrong. more/less, etc).

      If we value individuals, then we must value the vast diversity of individual perspectives. Seeking to understand before attempting to be understood is a humble position that leads to depths of understanding. Civiil discourse can help us find multiple agreeable avenues to a better society. From this, policy debates can rightly ensue. Skipping that important step merely continues to divide us unproductively into polarized camps, each claiming truth and demonizing the other.

      1. What “civil discourse” and “understanding” is needed to understand these four simple words, “shall not be infringed”?

      2. “First, that I don’t know everything about this matter or the person(s) with whom I am in discourse. Second, civil discourse cannot be achieved if one labels, dismisses, demonizes, diminishes or “other-izes” people bringing different perspectives to the conversation (which is primarily why Brooks should not have used “fanatic”).”
        List the gun control person that can do this and I will be happy to talk with them.

      3. if one can get the anti gun ,socialist, progressive democrats to stop, think, listen and read and accept the damn 2nd amendment, this subject would not even need discussing.

        But since the dems are no longer dems, but rather marxist/socialists leaning heavily towards communism in the USA, that’ll never happen.

        Man has been killing man since the beginning of our species. I don’t see it stopping, by whatever means used, anytime soon.

    Leave a Comment 6 Comments

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *